New and beginning farmers along with limited resource producers in Tennessee have an opportunity to sign-up for a federal conservation program to help them protect, restore, and enhance grasslands on their property.

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Tennessee is conducting a sign-up for the Grassland Reserve Program through Aug. 3. The sign-up specifically targets new or beginning farmers (those who have operated their farms for not more than 10 consecutive years) and limited resource producers (those with an income at or below the national poverty level for a family of four, or an income less than 50-percent of their county’s median household income for the previous two years).

An online tool to determine GRP eligibility is available at http://www.lrftool.sc.egov.usda.gov/.

Applications will be taken for 10-, 15-, and 20-year contracts and will be ranked according to the GRP ranking tool. Applications on 20 or more acres of contiguous grassland will be considered.

Rental rates typically range from $8 to $16.50 per acre per year depending on the county where the grassland is located.

GRP is a voluntary program emphasizing support for working grazing operations; enhancement of plant and animal biodiversity; and protection of grassland and land containing shrubs and forbs under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development, and other activities that threaten grassland resources.

All enrollment options permit:

• Common grazing practices that maintain the viability of the grassland;

• Haying, mowing, or harvesting for seed production, subject to certain restrictions during the nesting season, as determined by NRCS; and

• Fire rehabilitation and the construction of fire breaks and fences.

GRP contracts and easements prohibit the production of crops (other than hay), fruit trees, and vineyards that require breaking the soil surface and other activities that would disturb the surface of the land, except for appropriate land management activities included in a grassland resource management plan. GRP is jointly administered by NRCS and the Farm Services Agency.

For more information, contact your local USDA/NRCS field office or go to the NRCS-Tennessee Web site at http://www.tn.nrcs.usda.gov/.